ANKARA (Reuters)–President Suleyman Demirel held talks with a top Iranian envoy aimed at defusing Syrian-Turkish tensions on Friday before crisis talks between Turkey’s chief military commander and political leaders.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi arrived in Ankara on the second leg of a peace mission–having met Syrian President Hafez al-Assad in Damascus on Thursday.
Turkish newspapers–often hawkish over the last week in their support of Ankara’s military warnings to Damascus–struck a markedly more sober tone on Friday.
"Nobody should get carried away with fantasies," said Ali Sirmen–a columnist at the mass-circulation daily Milliyet.
He said Syria would not hand over Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan. "But maybe amid the confusion–it will throw the PKK leader out of the country and cut off his logistical support," he wrote.
Turkey accused Syria last week of waging an "undeclared war" by backing Kurds fighting for the last 14 years for autonomy in the southeast. Military leaders threatened action against Syria if it did not hand over Ocalan.
Syria denies helping Ocalan and has looked to Arab countries for support–drawing on regional suspicions over informal military co-operation between Turkey and Israel.
The United States fears any attack on Syria could further damage the Middle East peace process and has made clear it wants a peaceful solution.
The campaign–which surprised foreign governmen’s by its sudden and fierce nature–appears to have eased in recent days with peacemaking missions by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and now by the Iranian foreign minister.
"The important thing is for this crisis to find a peaceful solution. That is the desire of all Islamic countries," Kharrazi said after the meetings. "If everything goes well–God willing–there will be a solution. But now it’s too early to say."
Later in the day armed forces head General Huseyin Kivrikoglu attended crisis talks including the president–Prime Minster Mesut Yilmaz and Foreign Minister Ismail Cem.
"The latest developmen’s to do with Syria and Kosovo were dealt with," a statement said simply after the talks.
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Abdullah telephoned Syria’s Assad on Friday after a newspaper report that he would launch a further mediation effort to end the a row between Turkey and Syria. Saudi Arabia has close ties with both countries.
Turkey’s Cem said he would be sending letters to Arab countries combined with visits by ministers to set out the Turkish case–Anatolian news agency said.
Some commentators have suggested the campaign was engineered to do precisely that. With elections seven months away–the Turkish political establishment is driven by rivalries that make forming governmen’s difficult.
The secularist ‘mainstream’ also now faces a growing challenge from a well-organized Islamist opposition.